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The awkward search for economists who support the GOP tax plan

Republicans have a choice when presenting their tax argument: they can (a) say that economists agree with them; or (b) dismiss the relevance of economists.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, for a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice continued...
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in...

The University of Chicago's Initiative on Global Markets recently conducted a survey of academic economists to ask if the Republican tax plan would exacerbate America's debt-to-GDP ratio. Of the 38 experts who responded, 37 said Republicans were wrong that the plan would pay for itself.

The 38th said he misunderstood the question.

The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business also asked the economists if the GOP proposal would significantly improve the economy. Only one said it would.

It's not exactly a secret that the Republican legislation is unpopular with the American public, but American economists tend to agree that the GOP plan isn't a good idea. Indeed, when Republicans tried to assemble a group of economists who endorsed the party's proposal, they ended up including a variety of people who aren't economists.

But GOP officials nevertheless want to believe their assumptions about trickle-down tax cuts are not only correct, but also bolstered by experts. On "Meet the Press" this past weekend, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) made the bizarre argument that tax cuts lead to growth, which leads to revenue, which "actually lowers the debt." When NBC's Chuck Todd pressed her to point to any evidence to support her assumptions, she eventually replied:

"Well, talk to economists like Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who used to be head of the [Congressional Budget Office]."

That was probably not the right thing to say.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin spoke to two of the three conservative economists Collins mentioned -- Glenn Hubbard and Douglas Holtz-Eakin -- and neither one believes the Republican tax plan pays for itself through revenue created by increased economic growth.

Collins' communications director told the Post, "Senator Collins did not mean to state definitively that the tax cut would pay for itself -- I can see why you would think that reading the ["Meet the Press"] transcript, and, to be clear, she does believe that the cuts could potentially pay for themselves."

Reality notwithstanding.

I'm left with the feeling that Collins and her far-right brethren are pursuing this debate the wrong way. At the risk of sounding reductive, Republicans basically have a choice when presenting their argument: they can (a) say that economists agree with them, which means their regressive plan has some merit lent by experts; or (b) dismiss the relevance of economists and subject-matter experts, sticking instead to their ideology and partisan orthodoxy.

During the health care debate, Republicans went with the latter. They realized that doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, and patient advocates said the GOP plan would be a disaster, but the party made a conscious decision not to care. Most Republicans said in no uncertain terms that industry stakeholders were simply irrelevant.

In the tax debate, they're trying the opposite course. It's not working.